Monday, April 18, 2011

Shooting a simple portrait

Shot with a Fuji FinePix HS10.
 The definition of portrait photography has broadened quite a bit over the past decades but staying tight on the subject's face is always a winning approach. Capturing good catch-lights in the eyes is usually a plus, especially if the picture is a positive treatment of the subject. If the subject is brooding, all bets on the value of catch-lights are off.

Recently, I entered a portrait competition and submitted a loosely cropped picture of Fiona asleep. It was cute but was it a portrait, even an environmental portrait? When I saw some of the other entries I decided I had interpreted the contest assignment far too broadly.

The winning photo was a beautifully lit cat. The image was sharp, it was full of detail and it was cropped nice and tight. There were catch-lights in the eyes. It shouted portrait about as loudly as it shouted cat. It deserved to win.

The shot today of Fiona is better. It's tight but there is a little bit of camera movement. This image isn't sharp enough to be a winner. And, if you look at Fiona's chin and upper lip on the right, there is a gray shadow that should have been removed in a photo enhancement program like Photoshop. The gray tint would be much better rendered in warm, pink flesh tones.

Getting this image presented some hurdles. One, it had to be shot with the lens zoomed in a little to a mild telephoto setting. Wide angles are poor for shooting portraits, especially if you are in close. This made handholding the camera a bit harder. In situations like this it's best to brace the camera if possible, although the stabilizers in today's cameras help a lot.

You must also watch the focus. In a small room, it is easy too be too close to the subject for the lens to focus accurately. You must be careful; The small image on the back of the camera may look sharp at a fast glance. It can fool you. When you download the image, you will find the image is only acceptable when viewed very, very small.

One answer to the focus problem is to shoot just a little looser than you'd like and crop the resulting image to the portrait you were aiming to shoot right from the beginning.

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